Tape Outs have been around for quite a while now. And even to this day, they are still found on several mixers, receivers, and even on some amplifiers. However, many people have no idea what these outputs are, including me. Well, not until I decided to write this article.
So, after some hours of research, here is everything I learned about tape outs.
So, what is a tape out?
Tape Out (or Tape Monitor Output) is an audio output channel found on mixing consoles and some receivers. Tape Out is a master output of all the input channels on a mixer or receiver at a fixed level of -10dBV, and they are not affected by the main output volume control or fader.
We’ll take a look at the different ways to use a tape out, how to use them to fit your audio playback or recording setup, and then some of the most common questions people have about tape outs.
Now, let’s talk about the primary difference between the main output and the tape output
Tape Out vs Main Out: What’s the difference?
On your mixer, receiver, or even on some integrated amps, you have probably noticed multiple outputs. But two of these outputs that are quite similar in many ways are the Tape Output (or Tape Out) and the Main Output (or Main Out). But what is the main difference between the Tape Out and the Main Out?
Although both the Tape Out and Main Out have the same audio signal, the primary difference between the two is that Tape Out has a fixed volume of -10dBV. On the other hand, the volume of the Main Out can be changed with the main volume control.
On a mixing console, all the input channels get sent to both the Tape Output and the Main Output. For this reason, the Tape Output and the Main Output have the same audio signal because they are being fed from the same sources (input channels).
On a receiver, once the input source of the Tape Out is the same as the source of the Main Out, they will all output an identical audio signal.
As I’ve already mentioned, the main difference between Tape Output and Main Output is that Tape Output has a fixed volume output, and the Main Output doesn’t. Here is why.
Originally, the audio signal from a Tape Output is meant to be recorded. And for this reason, manufacturers made the Tape Out an audio output with a fixed loudness level so that you will have a recording with a consistent level.
For this reason, there is no dedicated volume knob on mixers and receivers for Tape Outs, meaning you can’t adjust its volume. Also, they are not affected by the Master Volume of the mixer or receiver.
The Main Output, on the other hand, is usually where the main speakers are connected to. And these could be the Front of House PA speakers of an event, or they could be your home theater system’s Hi-Fi speakers.
The Main Output’s volume is controlled by the main volume fader or knob so that you can adjust the loudness of the audio playing through the speakers.
Ways to Use the Tape Output
Here are the different ways you can use the tape output
1. For recording audio
The main reason why the Tape Output was added to mixers and receivers is to provide an output solely for recording purposes. As you may already know, this output is named “Tape Output” because they were initially made to record audio onto a Tape Deck.
However, times have changed, and there are multiple ways and devices you can record with. You can record the audio output of a Tape Out to a CD Player, cassette tape, using an audio interface connected to a computer or smartphone, and a dozen other devices.
For many years, the Tape Out was the primary way live performance was recorded. All the musical instruments on stage will be plugged into the mixer’s input channels. And while they perform, the entire performance will be recorded in stereo via the Tape Output.
2. Tape outs can be used as a source selector
What do I mean by this?
On some high-end receivers and integrated amps, there is a dedicated source selector switch for tape outs. With this source selector, you can choose which source of audio is sent through the tape outs.
So, on a receiver, you can choose to send the Radio, CD, or DVD player’s audio or the Aux Input’s audio to the Tape out. While at the same time, different source audio is playing through the Main Out.
In this case, you can have your receiver’s Main Out and Tape Out playing different audio. So, you can listen to one audio signal through the Main Out while recording a different audio signal through the Tape Out.
Should You Record Audio Using Tape Out?
Using the Tape Output on mixers was one of the few ways to capture live audio. Back in the day, musicians rehearsed for months to make sure their performance was on point before they went to the studio.
In the studio, they performed their song a couple of times while the mixing engineer mixed it live. And after everything sounds good, they start recording.
Their performance was recorded in stereo (or 2-track) on a tape deck, and the audio signal is taken from the mixing desk’s Tape Out. This was how things were done back in the days, and there were many disadvantages to that.
Now, times have changed, and there are mixing consoles with much better recording capabilities. Digital mixers have gradually become the standard for mixing. And that’s because it allows you to be multitrack, meaning you can record every instrument and vocals separately. And this means you can properly mix any song properly after a performance.
So here is what I’ll say about recording using a Tape Out.
If you intend to record simple audio like podcasts, radio shows, or speeches, you can record using the Tape Outputs, and they will sound great. However, if you are recording multiple musical instruments or vocals in a musical performance, it’s better to multitrack record the performance than to use the tape output.
If you record podcasts, speeches, and audios involving a few inputs, you can definitely record the audio from the Tape out. Most analog mixers will have a tape output that you can connect an audio interface to and record.
However, if you are a professional studio engineer, it’s advisable that you acquire a digital mixer with multitrack recording capabilities so that you can record all instruments individually. And this makes it easy to edit and mix later.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about some of the common questions people have about tape outputs.
Can I Use Tape Out as Pre Out?
Maybe there is no preamp out on your receiver, but only a tape output. Or perhaps you want to connect a power amp to the Tape out because the pre-out is already in use. Whatever the reason, can the Tape out be as a pre out?
In short, no. Tape Out cannot be used as pre out. That’s because the audio signal sent through the Tape Output is not processed through the preamp. And this means all the preamp’s controls do not affect the Tape Output.
The audio signal from the Tape Out is obtained directly from its input source. The signal is not processed through the preamp, tone controls, volume control, or any effect before it finally reaches the tape output.
For this reason, none of the preamp’s controls affect the audio signal running through the Tape Output. And there is no coloration of the Tape Out audio output by the preamp. And this is why Tape out cannot be used as a pre out. There are two totally different audio signals.
Can You Use Tape Out for Power Amps?
You can plug a power amp into a tape out, and it will work. However, you’ll not be able to regulate the volume of the output audio. That’s because tape outputs don’t have a volume control knob, and most power amps also have no volume control knobs or faders.
Although connecting a power amp to a tape out will work, this is not an ideal setup, and you are at the risk of blowing the speakers connected to the power amps. The audio output may be too loud for the speakers to handle, and that will easily damage it.
It’s not a good idea to plug a power amp directly into a tape out unless you want to risk damaging your speakers.
However, there are a few things you can do if you have no option other than to use the Tape out.
Use a passive preamplifier.
Passive preamplifiers are devices that allow you to attenuate (or reduce) an audio signal from one source to another. Unlike active preamps, these preamps don’t boost the signal. They simply make it possible to regulate the volume of an audio signal that is run through it.
Passive preamp has input channels where you’ll connect your input devices into, in our case, the tape output. And has a volume knob for controlling the output volume of your audio input. And there is an output channel where you’ll plug your output device, in our case, the power amp.
Here is how to use a passive preamp when you want to connect a power amp to a tape output.
- Connect the tape output to the passive preamp’s input
- Plug the power amp into the output of the passive preamp’s output
- Control the volume with the passive preamp’s volume knob
This simple setup will allow you to control the volume of the audio that gets sent to the power amp.
Schiit, which is undoubtedly one of the most reputable audio brands out there, makes passive preamps that are top-notch and gets the job done. The Schiit SYS Volume Control Passive Preamp (on Amazon) is an excellent passive preamp worth checking out.
This option has two inputs, meaning you can connect two audio input devices, and has a source switch to choose which input gets sent to the output channel. And, of course, the volume knob. It’s a very simple unit that gets the job done.
Use the headphone out
Maybe your pre out is already in use. Well, then your next best output channel to use is the headphone out instead of the Tape out.
If your receiver has a headphone output, you can plug your power amp into it. That’s because headphone outputs on receivers usually have their own volume knob. This means you can control the volume of the audio sent to the power amp.
That will be a much better option than using the Tape out.
Can You Use Tape Out for Subwoofers?
There are some integrated amps and receivers that don’t have sub outs. Can the Tape Out work as a sub out? Or simply put, can you use Tape out for subwoofers?
Subwoofers will work when plugged in the tape output. However, it will be at a fixed volume. And that’s because tape output is not affected by the main volume.
This means when you increase or decrease the volume, the subwoofer’s volume will remain the same. And this definitely isn’t ideal. You want your subwoofer’s volume to increase and decrease with the speakers as you increase and decrease the volume.
Suppose you have a subwoofer with a high-level input; great. High-level input subwoofers are designed to receive the same full signal that will be sent to the speakers, but they will only play the lower frequencies.
All you need to do is to connect the high level input on your subwoofer to the speaker terminals. This means you will run two individual speaker cables from your amp — one to the speakers and the other to the subwoofer’s high-level input.
This way, you’ll have no issues with volume, and the subwoofer’s sound output will increase or decrease as you change the volume.
Is Tape Out the same as Record Out?
In short, yes. Tape Out is the same as Record Out. Some manufacturers label their Tape Output as REC OUT or Record Out. Regardless of the label, Record Out and Tape Out are the same thing.
Is Tape out a line output?
Yes, the audio signal from a tape out (or record out) is a line-level signal; hence Tape out is a line output.
However, this is an unbalanced line output. This means the cable that will be connected to the Tape out should not be too long. The cable should be less than 15 feet long; else, there could be noise in the audio signal.
Tape Outputs have been around for quite a long time. And the primary reason for tape outs is to serve as an audio output for recording onto a tape deck.
But just as we have discussed, there are many different ways to use the tape outputs, not just for recording.